The latest clue to the American economy’s trajectory will come Thursday morning when the Labor Department releases new data on initial unemployment claims.
After drifting downward from the peaks reached after the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival in the spring, new claims have stabilized at a level far higher than in past recessions.
Last week, the department reported that more than 857,000 new claims were filed for unemployment insurance from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, before adjusting for seasonal factors. Before the pandemic, the weekly high was a seasonally adjusted 695,000 in October 1982.
A consensus estimate from Bloomberg foresees 850,000 claims in the new report on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from 884,000 in the previous two weeks.
Other economic data has been mixed. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 0.6 percent in August, less than what analysts had been expecting and down from the revised gain of 0.9 percent in July.
On the other hand, the Labor Department reported this month that employers hired 1.4 million people in August while the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent.
“While we see evidence of hiring and new jobs being created, there are still millions of people struggling to get by and having to file for unemployment insurance,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
Those filers, he noted, will receive substantially less aid from the federal government than they would have two months ago. A supplement of $600 a week that was created in March expired at the end of July, and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension.
President Trump last month announced a makeshift replacement program using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but its rollout has been shaky. It offers $300 a week, but funds have been depleted in some states, while others have yet to begin paying.
Experts will also be watching claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment insurance.
Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance does. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.
Main Street businesses — especially music clubs, gyms, restaurants, bars and others that were forced to close by the coronavirus pandemic — are trying to figure out how, or if, they can dig out of debt.
Nearly 73,000 businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic took hold, according to an analysis by Yelp. And the fate of many that remain open increasingly hinges on their ability to renegotiate their leases.
“For 10 weeks, our revenue went to zero and stayed at zero,” said Rhonda Stark, the owner of three Orangetheory Fitness gyms in Ohio that were shut down from mid-March until late May. Ms. Stark’s collective rent bill, her largest fixed expense, tops $32,000 a month. She hasn’t paid it in full since March. Ms. Stark’s gyms have reopened at a reduced capacity, cutting her sales by about 30 percent. To stay open, she needs to strike new deals with her landlords.
Retail rent collections plunged in April to just 54 percent of the total owed, according to Datex Property Solutions, a software company that tracks data on thousands of its clients’ retail properties nationwide. By August, collections had rebounded to nearly 80 percent, but some tenants, like movie theaters, clothing retailers, hair salons and gyms, were much further behind.
“When tenants can’t pay the rent, it imperils landlords’ ability to pay their own overhead and their loans, and the whole thing cascades,” Mark Sigal, chief executive of Datex, said.
For both sides, it’s a complicated dance. Property owners have their own expenses to pay, including taxes, insurance, mortgage or debt payments, and maintenance bills. Buildings owned by real estate investment trusts or Wall Street bondholders have complex management structures and governing covenants that can limit the property manager’s ability to make a deal.